Indonesia: A cruise around the islands east of Bali

I love cruising's enormous variety. On some cruises I sprint ashore daily, ready with my list of must-see sights. On others, I'm voluntarily corralled into a shore excursion, happy to be led. Neither applies to this cruise. It's early morning and, from Star Clipper's deck, Satonda Island is a black smudge ahead. I've no idea what I'll do there. This cruise to the islands east of Bali lacks urgency. It's a slow sail of creaking canvas and gentle swells, to beautiful places where I rediscover the joy of doing nothing.

We're seven days from Bali off the north coast of Sumbawa, and anchor off a sand-fringed bay. Satonda is a tiny island, and as I wade ashore from the Zodiac it seems like a thousand others. A short walk reveals its surprise, though. A volcanic explosion has ripped out its heart, leaving a lake-filled caldera cupped between verdant cliffs. It's a Lost World where I imagine dinosaurs might emerge. Instead, only squeaking fruit bats rearrange themselves in the trees.

Fired by a sudden energy, I follow a rough track upwards through the forest, scrambling and sweating to the caldera's summit. The whole hollowed-out island lies below, its lake a blue mirror of reflections, the Flores Sea beyond. Star Clipper floats in the bay like a pirate ship, masts nodding in slow time. The sun rises in orange rays above the rim of hills. No wonder locals think this uninhabited island is sacred. Down on the bay they leave bits of coral hanging in the trees as offerings, where they clank like wind chimes.

I return to the beach hot and happy. Other passengers are already in the water, excited as schoolchildren as they paddle above clumps of coral. I haul on a mask and fins and join them, insinuating myself into a cool blue world of starfish and yellow angelfish, and flitting creatures I've only ever seen in aquariums.

This itinerary never lingers too long. No time to get restless. Over lunch we sail the short distance to bigger Moyo Island and dock off the village of Labuan Haji. Its mosque domes pop in green above white houses swathed in purple bougainvillea. Why cruise here? No special reason. I watch a village football match, and old men mending fishing nets. I pass women whose gold-toothed smiles wink from dim shop interiors. Some passengers commandeer motorbikes and head off to the hinterland.

I decide on a two-kilometre walk to a local waterfall. It's a lovely stroll past tidy houses framed in picket fences, and rice paddies that will be flooded in season but are now dry and goat-nibbled. The waterfall is just a two-metre drop over a giant boulder on the forested hillside, but delightful. Village boys sleek as otters swing out on ropes, letting themselves plummet with a kaboom into the pool below.

Back on Star Clipper the beer is cold in the Tropical Bar and the sun is setting behind a volcano as we sail off. The rigging creaks, the breeze soothes, I can feel the salt on my skin. I haven't seen a Big Sight, I haven't crossed a thing off a bucket list. I still haven't even learned the difference between topgallants and topsails on this magnificent four-masted beauty of a ship. I suppose you could say I've done nothing at all, and boy does it feel good.


Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Star Clippers and Alila Seminyak Bali.




Virgin Australia flies to Denpasar in Bali from every major Australian city. Phone 13 67 89, see


The chic Alila Seminyak Bali sits on the beach and has considerable contemporary flair, with a spa, excellent dining and very helpful staff. Rooms from $455 a night. See


Star Clipper next sails seven-day cruises round-trip from Bali between June and September 2019, some heading westwards and taking in Lombok and Java. Brian Johnston travelled on an eastbound itinerary that visits Lombok, Komodo, Satonda and Bali. Prices from $2874 a person, twin share including meals, entertainment, water sports and Komodo dragon spotting. Phone 1300 295 161. See